In the midst of the avalanche of bad Rio news over the last ten days, mayor Eduardo Paes said the two young men accused of killing cameraman Santiago Andrade, during a demonstration against a bus fare hike, were filhinhos de papai mimados, or spoiled brats, who “should go to prison for a long time”.
Perhaps Paes’ political success is partly due to an ability to voice what his constituency is thinking. After all, he’s been heard to indiscriminately call Argentines cucarachas, or cockroaches.
One of the two young men now moldering in Bangu, Fabio Raposo, is reportedly a disaffected and jobless member of the Brazilian middle class. The other, Caio Silva de Souza, comes from a poor family of northeastern migrants and worked in a low-level hospital job. Here is an exclusive interview he gave to TV Globo’s “Jornal Nacional”.
Whether or not these two are spoiled brats, the mayor’s use of the term and most of the Brazilian media’s reporting and commentary have left untouched the question of where the violence comes from. Examining the violence could be construed, they seem to think, as legitimating it.
Peacekeeping is the priority — and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But it neglects the media’s role as an aid to citizens who are trying to make sense of the world and their places in it.
So here are some unanswered questions from the last ten days:
- Why did Jonas Tadeu, lawyer for the two young men, intimate that they’d been paid to participate in demonstrations? Was it to try for a shorter sentence? Or to tarnish the reputation of leftist politicians? Or both?
- Why did the media focus on leftist parties as the source of the alleged payoffs? Why did almost no one mention, or follow up on, a November article in O Globo about allegedly paid activism on the part of people linked to former governor Anthony Garotinho, not a leftist? Why has there been no discussion of the protests and the violence in light of the upcoming October gubernatorial election?
- Jonas Tadeu allowed his client to give an exclusive interview to TV Globo on the night of his arrest in Bahia. Was this advisable, from the client’s point of view? Why is there no news of a civil group or NGO, including the Brazilian bar association, OAB, questioning Tadeu’s advice or offering a defense alternative to the accused? The OAB has monitored demonstrations and helped arrestees over the past months.
- Why were the accused at the demonstration? Why do some protestors, paid or not, think it’s acceptable to attack property and police, risking others’ lives and wellbeing?
The priority on peacekeeping leaves much unexplored — on the margin.
It’s as if Brazilians can only digest reality in doses. President Dilma Rousseff’s Mais Médicos program, regardless of its success or failure at temporarily transplanting Cubans, has finally brought home the fact that more doctors are needed in this country’s backwaters and poor neighborhoods. Even in areas that aren’t far off the mental map, as this Portuguese columnist recently discovered.
So much has yet to be digested.
The focus on urban violence linked to demonstrations — our hottest topic, since peaceful hosting of the June World Cup is at stake — last week eclipsed other bloodshed and turbulence. As police and drug traffickers battled in the North and West Zones, with conflicting versions of events, angered favela residents have burned buses and even destroyed a construction site for the Transcarioca, the dedicated bus lane meant to link Barra da Tijuca with the international airport in time for the Olympics.
Last night and today, violence also flared in the South Zone Rocinha favela, with two druglords reportedly vying for territory, despite the presence of a police pacification unit.
We do want peace, most of us. But the fear of violence — the fear of others’ offensive opinions, too — can blind us. A thoughtful citizenry is necessary to a healthy democracy. Some Facebook users are defriending people whose opinions they deem unacceptable, creating bubbles. One commentator urged readers to declare themselves either for or against black blocs, saying there is now no middle ground.
But if we don’t try to ask — and answer– the toughest questions, we risk more of the very thing we most fear.
It may be that defining oneself or assigning blame are not the most difficult acts. Perhaps real courage is what it takes to listen to those unlike ourselves and to constantly re-think our assumptions and beliefs. Bubbles do burst.
Click here to read an op-ed piece in O Globo, by state legislator Marcelo Freixo.
Click here to watch a Rafucko video criticizing the “Jornal Nacional” nightly newscasts about demonstrations.
If you have suggestions regarding this debate, regardless of the politics involved, please add them in the comments section.